NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard USFWS R/V Tiglax
September 11-25, 2019
Mission: Northern Gulf of Alaska Long-Term Ecological Research project
Geographic Area of Cruise: Northern Gulf of Alaska – currently sampling in Prince William Sound
Date: September 12, 2019
Weather Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 60º16.073’ N
Wind: East, 10 knots – building to 30
Air Temperature: 13ºC (55ºF)
Air Pressure: 1003 millibars
Cloudy, light drizzle
Science and Technology Log
There is a tool for every job and the same holds true for sampling plankton and water in the Northern Gulf of Alaska (NGA). As we sorted, shuffled and assembled equipment yesterday, what struck me the most was the variety of nets and other equipment needed for the different science research being performed as part of the LTER program.
There are a variety of research disciplines comprising the LTER scientific team aboard the R/V Tiglax, each with their own equipment and need for laboratory space. These disciplines include physical oceanography, biological (phytoplankton and zooplankton), and chemical oceanography along with marine birds and mammal. Their equipment has been transported from University of Alaska Fairbanks, as well as Western Washington University to the remote town of Seward AK and subsequently transferred to the ship before it could be either set up or stored away in the hold for later use. Logistics is an important part of any research mission.
Immediately, it was obvious that some of the primary equipment on the ship, used for almost all the water sampling and plankton tows, require frequent maintenance in order to maintain function. The winch for instance needed rewiring at port before we could depart. Winch runs the smart wire cable that allows the scientists to talk real time to the equipment (e.g., CTD and MultiNet).
One of the most complex pieces of equipment and the workhorse of all oceanographic cruises, the CTD, takes a good deal of time to set up as well properly interface with the computers in the lab for real-time data communication. A CTD, which stands for conductivity, temperature and depth, is a piece of equipment that accurately measures the salinity and water temperature at different depths. The CTD is actually only a small portion of the device shown below.
The main gray bottles visible in a ring around the top are called Niskin bottles. These bottles are used to collect water samples and can be fired from the lab computer to close and seal water in at the desired depth. These water samples are used by the team to examine both chlorophyll (abundance of phytoplankton) as well as nutrients. As a side note, if these bottles are not reopened when the CTD is sent back down the pressure can cause the bottles to implode. Two bottles were lost this way at our second station this morning, luckily spares were available onboard!
One bottle shattered from the pressure (on the right) and in the process, broke the neighboring bottle.
On the bottom of the CTD, there are several important sensors. One is for nitrates and another for dissolved oxygen. Additionally, there is a laser that detects particle size in the water, aiding in identifying plankton. Much of this data is being fed to the computers but will not be analyzed until the scientists return the lab at the end of the cruise.
A big decision had to be made before departing Seward late in the evening on the 11th. A gale warning is in effect for the NGA with 30+ knot winds and high seas. After several meetings between the chief scientists and the captain, it was determined to forego the typical sampling along GAK1 and the Seward line and head immediately to Prince William Sound (PWS) to escape the brunt of the storm.
After getting underway late in the evening on Wednesday, the 11th, we stopped at a station called Res 2.5 in Resurrection Bay. This station is used to test the CTD before heading out. Just as with any complicated equipment it takes time to work out the glitches. For example, it is imperative to have the CTD lower and raise at a particular rate of speed for consistent results and speed and depth sensor were not initially reading correctly. Additionally, the winch continued to give a little trouble until all the kinks were worked out close to midnight. With a night focused on transiting to PWS, sampling was put on hold until this morning.
There are three F’s to remember when working aboard a NOAA research vessel: Flexibility, Fortitude and Following orders. Flexibility was the word for everyone to focus on the first day. I was immediately impressed with how everyone was able to adjust schedules based on equipment issues, coordination with other researchers on equipment loading and storage and most of all the weather.
Yesterday, there was help needed everywhere, so I was able to lend a hand with the moving and sorting and eventually assembly of some of our equipment. The weather was beautiful in Seward as we worked in the sunshine on the deck, knowing that a gale was brewing and would follow us on our exit from Resurrection Bay. Helping put together the variety of nets we are going to be able to use during our night shift, gave me time to ask our team a lot of questions. I am amazed at how open and willing the entire team is to teach me every step of the way. I am feverishly taking notes and pictures to take it all in.
Orientation and safety are also a big part of the first day on a new ship. Dan, the first mate, gave us a rundown of the rules and regulations for R/V Tiglax along with a tour of the ship. We ended on the deck with a practice drill and getting into our survival suits in case of a ship evacuation.
Adjusting to a night time schedule will be one of my greatest challenges. Usually we work the first night but we had a break due to the weather so we were able to put off our first nighttime sampling until Thursday night. Everyone on the night crew has a different technique to adjust their body clock. My plan was to stay up as late as possible and then rise early. Last night however, between the ship noise and the rocking back & forth in the high seas during our transit from Seward to Knight Island passage, I did not sleep well. Hopefully this will inspire a nap so I can wake refreshed for our first night shift.
When I awoke this morning at 06:00, we had entered the sheltered waters of Knight Island passage. with calm seas and a light drizzle, ready to start a full day of collection. I was able to watch the first plankton tows with the CalVet for the daytime zooplankton team with Kira Monell and Russ Hopcroft. Additionally, I made my rounds up to the fly bridge where Dan Cushing monitors for seabirds and mammals while we are underway. I will share details of these experiences in the coming days.
For now, it is time for lunch and my power nap.
Did You Know:
There are a wide variety of plankton sampling nets each with a unique design to capture the desired type and size of plankton. To name a few we will be using: Bongo nets, Mutlinets (for vertical and horizontal towing), Methot trawl nets, and CalVet nets. As I get to assist with each one of these nets, I will highlight them in my blog to give you a better idea what they look like and how they work.